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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Lykurgos and the Vines of Dionysos

Triton XXI, Lot: 166. Estimate $3000.
Sold for $1900. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius. AD 138-161. Æ Drachm (33mm, 22.66 g, 11h). Dated RY 18 (AD 154/155). [AVT K T A]IΛ A∆P ANT[ωNINOC CЄB ЄVC], laureate bust right, slight drapery / Lykurgos and the Vines of Dionysos – King Lykurgos right, his left knee kneeling on a vine stump, his arms pulled behind him by the vines, his head tilted up and his axe(?) between his legs; [L I H] date across field. Köln –; Dattari (Savio) 2995 & 8841-2 (all with the same rev. die); K&G 35.650; Emmett 1603.18 (R5); BMC 1055-6 (described as “Herakles cutting down the vines of Syleus,” but most likely this type); Staffieri, Alexandria In Nummis 141 (this coin). VF, rough dark brown to black surfaces with traces of green. Extremely rare. The only other specimen sold that this cataloguer can recall was in our Triton XX auction (1 December 1998), lot 658, which was struck from the same pair of dies as this coin.

From the Giovanni Maria Staffieri Collection. Ex Empire Coins 8 (7 December 1987), lot 596 (where it was misidentified as “Hercules and the Mares of Diomedes”).

A rather obscure myth, in one version King Lykurgos is credited with defeating the army of Dionysos when the god invaded Thrace. Dionysos escaped by plunging into the sea and sought refuge in Thetis’ grotto. Dionysos’ mother, Rhea, upset by her son’s misfortune, drove Lykurgos mad and then helped her son’s army to escape. Lykurgos, in his madness, killed his own son Dryas with an axe (believing he was cutting down a vine, hence the coin type), and then pruned the corpse of its nose, ears, fingers, and toes. Dionysos, returning from the sea, told the people of Thrace that Lykurgos would have to be killed or the land would remain barren as punishment for Lykurgos’ crime. King Lykurgos was then killed by being drawn and quartered by wild horses.